Toward critical bioethics

Vilhjálmur Árnason*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This article deals with the question as to what makes bioethics a critical discipline. It considers different senses of criticism and evaluates their strengths and weaknesses. A primary method in bioethics as a philosophical discipline is critical thinking, which implies critical evaluation of concepts, positions, and arguments. It is argued that the type of analytical criticism that restricts its critical role to critical thinking of this type often suffers from other intellectual flaws. Three examples are taken to demonstrate this: premature criticism, uncritical self-understanding of theoretical assumptions, and narrow framing of bioethical issues. Such flaws can lead both to unfair treatment of authors and to uncritical discussion of topics. In this context, the article makes use of Häyry's analysis of different rationalities in bioethical approaches and argues for the need to recognize the importance of communicative rationality for critical bioethics. A radically different critical approach in bioethics, rooted in social theory, focuses on analyses of power relations neglected in mainstream critical thinking. It is argued that, although this kind of criticism provides an important alternative in bioethics, it suffers from other shortcomings that are rooted in a lack of normative dimensions. In order to complement these approaches and counter their shortcomings, there is a need for a bioethics enlightened by critical hermeneutics. Such hermeneutic bioethics is aware of its own assumptions, places the issues in a wide context, and reflects critically on the power relations that stand in the way of understanding them. Moreover, such an approach is dialogical, which provides both a critical exercise of speech and a normative dimension implied in the free exchange of reasons and arguments. This discussion is framed by Hedgecoe's argument that critical bioethics needs four elements: to be empirically rooted, theory challenging, reflexive, and politely skeptical.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-164
Number of pages11
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Volume24
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2015 Cambridge University Press.

Other keywords

  • bioethics
  • biotechnology
  • critique
  • dialogue
  • hermeneutics
  • normativity
  • power
  • rationality

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